The process of smoking fish is an age old tradition, introduced hundreds of years ago as a way of extending the usability of fish by adding salt and yellow dye.
The smoke house used by MTL dates back approximately 150 years, making it the oldest still in use in Grimsby and it is now listed.
It was in 1982 that MTL was formed when the smokehouse was taken over by brothers Martin and Terry Leggett and later Steve Leggett.
All these years on and the business is now in the very capable hands of experienced fish smoker Ian Button who joined MTL as a school leaver and has spent the past 30 years following the traditional methods of smoking the fish.
He starts each morning by selecting the absolute best fresh fish available from the Grimsby Fish Market, in order to ensure a superior quality product, all of the fish selected use sustainable fishing methods.
The fish is then hand filleted by the experienced filleters on the premises at the smoke house, before the fillets are immersed in brine.
Ian then climbs up and down the tar lined chimney himself and hangs the fillets on long metal rods called spreats in the traditional manner.
The fillets are very gradually smoked using smouldering sawdust for a minimum of 12 hours. This provides a very different product from the mechanically smoked product that many supermarkets offer with a liquid smoke that is pumped over the fish. Instead the traditional smoke penetrates the fish throughout the fillet.
We are confident that we offer the best possible quality product. Our service guarantees that the fish can be purchased fresh from the market, filleted and smoked one day and in the customer’s home the next. This sets our service apart from others.
We interviewed Ian Button from MTL and asked him some of your frequently asked questions
What’s the difference between yellow and natural smoked fish?
Actually, not much! Well not in terms of the process and the flavour anyhow.
The yellow dye is a mix of natural colourings, in our case turmeric and annatto.
The natural and yellow smoked Haddock and Cod are smoked in the chimney the exact same way. The colour is only added if requested and is only cosmetic as some customers prefer the appearance of the yellow coloured fish.
How long does the fish last for once it’s smoked?
We usually give between 3 and 5 days on the label as best before but it should usually be good for a week on average. The fish is bought fresh from the Grimsby Fish Market each day and is filleted on the premises before it is hung and smoked and so it will reach the customer in the best possible quality. We don’t extend the shelf life by treating the product to a gas flush or with preservatives unlike much supermarket smoked fish. Also we wrap in the traditional manner in paper so its packed in a way that keeps the traditional flavour rather than extending the shelf life.
Does the fish vary in strength dependant on where in the chimney it has been hung?
There are many things that can effect the taste and flavour of the fish.
The texture and source of the fish can cause variations as well as the air temperature, wind and damp in the air from rain or fog.
The place within the chimney can alter the flavour slightly dependant on how many fillets are hung. The chimney can hold around 650 kg of fillet but we try to stick at 450 kg in order to ensure the maximum infusion of flavour and a good smoking of each and every fillet.
What is the PGI status and why has MTL been awarded with it? What does it mean to MTL?
In 2009 Traditional Grimsby Smoked fish was awarded PGI status by the European Commission. PGI status stands for Protected Geographical Indication and is supported through the European Protected Food names scheme.
The UK’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), defines Traditional Grimsby smoked fish as fillets of Cod or Haddock weighing between 200 and 700 grams, which have been cold smoked in accordance with the traditional method and within a defined geographical location within Grimsby
Grimsby Traditionally Smoked Fish was only the 39th food product in the UK to receive PGI status and only 4 had been awarded to seafood products and so it is a huge accolade.
There were only a handful of companies awarded the PGI status for Grimsby traditional smoked fish, we were thrilled to receive it as it meant that it had been recognised that our product was superior to other smoked cod or haddock.
We are visited every year by Trading Standards so that they can ensure we are correctly adhering to the strict controls and applying the traditional methods.
The PGI status was awarded to the natural product and not the yellow, the reason for this being that there are many different possibilities for colourings so it would be difficult to monitor.
People are thinking more and more about what is on their plate, where it has come from, how it is prepared and whether artificial colours or flavourings have been added.
The PGI accreditation helps people to understand that we offer a superior quality product which uses traditional and natural methods and that’s what sets us apart. We look forward to continuing support from our customers and we will continue to supply them with Traditional Smoked Fish which is unsurpassed in quality and flavour.